On Saturday I met my friend Rosie for coffee at 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters. It was a beautiful day and since it might be one of the last beautiful days we have in Vancouver until, well, May, we decided to sit on the patio. About 10 feet away from the patio, on 13th Avenue, there was some police tape, and the alley behind the cafe was cordoned off, with some police officers standing by.
On my way into 49th Parallel, I had noticed a crowd gathering by the police tape.
"What's going on?" I asked one bystander. They explained that there was a man barricaded in a house in the alley, who had apparently set the house on fire the night before, and was now refusing any entry by the fire department or police officers. He was waving a knife around. At that point I counted about 15 police officers, some in tactical "SWAT" style gear, and figured they had the situation more than under control.
We were sitting on the patio talking when all of a sudden I started sneezing uncontrollably. Then, while Rosie was staring at me quizzically as I sneezed again and again, she started sneezing too. Then we started coughing. And everyone around us started coughing and sneezing, and choking.
"Oh god," I choked. "I think they're gassing him out! Quick, get inside!"
The crowd gathering on 14th and Main to watch what was going on. They had a better vantage point than we did on 13th. Photo credit: Georgia Straight.
As we gathered our stuff and made our way into the cafe, Rosie looked over at the cops manning the police tape. They were outfitted with masks, and stood watching us, arms crossed, and laughing. They were
That was it for me. It would have taken not even 5 minutes for them to walk over, say, "We'd like to clear this patio, please get inside," or ask 49th Parallel's staff to do so, and close the garage doors to the patio. Not only did they
do that, but they laughed.
I have been very sympathetic to Vancouver police officers. I see the beat some of them walk in my neighbourhood every day. I watched them clear street after street of drunken hockey rioters. But they lost some support from me in the way they handled this incident. They would have compromised nothing by asking us to go inside. It wouldn't have been a red flag to crazy knife wielding guy in any way whatsoever. They wouldn't have even needed to tell us why they wanted us to go inside. It was a simple gesture that would have saved a number of us a very uncomfortable afternoon and evening (and even day after) of sore throats, itchy eyes and runny noses. This was a communication fail and an absolute disregard for affected community members.
So, now I've been tear gassed. I can cross that off my bucket list, I suppose.
On another note, 49th Parallel is one of my favourite cafes in town. Beautiful coffee and amazing ambiance - just beware the chemical weapons.
The amazing Venezualan Latte at 49th Parallel. Ask for it without the tear gas, and with extra foam.